Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Irish Car Bomb

The Irish Car Bomb

What he’s doing is harder than the Triple Crown.

What he’s doing is harder than Elin Nordegren in divorce court.

What’s he’s doing is harder than a day in the sweat box with a rubber suit and the company of Rush Limbaugh.

He’s Paddy O’Prado and he’s one win away from winning the Grand Slam of Grass.

This is hitting a single off the Rays, a double off the Cardinals, a triple off the Red Sox, and a home run against the Yankees. This is seven Tour de France’s in a row ... only more impressive.
Because Americans hate grass more than Nancy Reagan this could take some explaining. The Grand Slam of Grass — like the Triple Crown — can only be won by a three year old but that’s where its similarities stop. A colt must visit New Kent Virginia at underappreciated Colonial Downs and win the Colonial Turf Cup at 9 ½ furlongs. Then come back and win the Virginia Derby at 10 furlongs. Wait two months? Sure, come back and win the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park — again at 10 furlongs — and now we start talking ... or do we?

Grass is king across the pond. The biggest races are all grass, lawn, as alive as you and I, not dead like silty earth. There’s a reason why Saratoga and Belmont’s turf courses are named for people, right? Mellon and Widener. What’s the dirt called? That’s right. Dirt.

(Unless, of course, we’re talking about Joe Dirt, the character played to perfection by David Spade in the 2001 movie “Joe Dirt”.)

Here’s how sad this story is. In Mike Curry’s report in the Thoroughbred Times it is first mentioned that Paddy O’Prado was the third-place finisher in the 2010 Kentucky Derby. It is not until the penultimate graf he mentions the El Prado colt’s Colonial Turf Cup and Virginia Derby victories.

Want to know what’s even sadder? The Grand Slam of Grass is on hiatus and along with it the $5 million bonus for sweeping the three aforementioned races along with the Breeders’ Cup Turf run at 12 furlongs.

“It's disappointing," said trainer Dale Romans after the Virginia Derby. “It'd be nice to have two legs of it down, but that's the economics of today's racing.”

In 2004 Romans trained Kitten’s Joy, a colt who went on to win the Va Derby and Secretariat. He finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

"I thought I'd never see a horse as good as Kitten's Joy," Romans told Daily Racing Form. "I'm starting to think this one might be."

Why the Slam was put on hiatus baffles me. No horse has hit it so what’s the problem? It’s not like New York Lottery has been giving out free winning tickets. We’re not giving college kids smoking pot a bottomless tray of boneless chicken wings ... not that I would know what that is like.

Jockey Kent Desormeaux, whose personal life has been in shambles of late, had the mount for the Secretariat and was noticeably high (poor choice of words???) on the horse.

"When we turned for home, the guys in front of me just cut for the wire," Desormeaux told the Form. "He was just faster than them."

Now there is enough time to finish a semester at college between now and the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs so anything can happen. Where he’ll race is anyone’s best guess but he’ll likely take a shot at older horses before he meets up against the big boys in the BC. Gio Ponti’s reign could be heading to a close. If he has a lost a step Paddy O’Prado is right there on his heels.

So who else is Paddy O’Prado gaining on? If Lookin’ At Lucky thinks he’s got Champion Three Year Old locked up with a win in the Preakness and Haskell he’d better think again. Super Saver will need to win the Travers decisively and not get embarrassed against either Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Dear Readers: This is not your cue to talk about Rachel Alexandra and/or Zenyatta a potential match up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic).

In honor of Paddy O’Prado, let’s have an Irish Car Bomb: drop a split-jigger of Jamesons and Bailey’s Irish Cream into a pint of Guinness and slam it down.

Not that I would know what that is like either.

Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project “Six Weeks in Saratoga” and "The Last Championship" at The Blog Itself. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Wine that Cooks Off

How is this fair?

Here he is, Big Brown, surrounded by three Australian beauties (Kate Waterhouse, Alexandra Agoston O’Connor, and Rachael Finch) and what looks to be Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. The last time I had three women smile at me I had to pay for it.

I find it no such coincidence that two of the women have the both Rachael and Alexandra in their names.

Big Brown’s not the only one who seems excited by this photograph, but it just goes to show you what flash-in-the-pan brilliance delivers, no low and slow here.

Hopefully his flight back from Australia is better that Oceanic Flight 815. But what if he were to suddenly crash on a mysterious island in the Pacific? Who would he run into? Ghosts of racing’s past? The Smoke Monster?
Maybe Vincent the yellow lab would find him in the bamboo thickets and lead him to the beach where he be forced into a leadership role, the same role he possessed as 2008 Champion Three Year Old.

Big Brown’s precocity seems mirrored by another two year old who ran Monday at the Spa by the name of Kantharos—a colt named after a type of Greek pottery used for drinking which possesses large looped handles that extend above the lip of the pot. What is the significance? Who knows. His owner also named a horse Kensei—an honorary title give to a warrior of legendary skill in swordsmanship.

Yes, Stonestreet Stables has what looks to be brilliant young colt and how bad do you think JJ wants to get to the Derby? After watching Kantharos burn up the sealed highway in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special to win by 7 ¼ lengths JJ won’t need his Cialis for a week.

“You like a horse a lot,” said winning trainer Steve Asmussen, “and like how he’s doing, but it’s the variables you have no control over. Garrett [Gomez] said it took him awhile to get into it — he thought he was cautious going over the track when he was warming up. He said that during the first 50 yards he wasn’t on the bridle much at all, but after he went a little ways he got into himself. I thought that he came into the stretch well. He hesitated a little bit when he first left [Bail Out the Cat], but late he really looked good and smooth and like he’ll go further, which is what everybody wants to know right now. What he’s done at these sprint distances is very impressive and brilliant, but we want to be greedy and get a little bit more.”

What does it mean to have a talented two year old? Not much. It gives you hope, the same way a fast-maturing 12-year-old Little Leaguer with a 5 o’clock shadow looks: mighty tough to beat.

About this time last year Dublin was the mare’s nay and now look at him: singing in a poorly-formed ABBA-style quartet with Drosselmeyer, Hot Dixie Chick, and Stardom Bound.

I have to imagine it is exciting to think that you’ve got the nation’s best juvenile colt, a colt that makes it look pretty darn easy. His daddy, Lion Heart, went hoof-to-hoof with Smarty Jones in the Derby and Preakness so you know he’ll like the distance and dirt. So what’s next? The Hopeful is too close so perhaps the one-mile Champagne at Belmont would be a good fit. More importantly it is run on October 9, seven weeks away.

So, like anything, Kantharos’ win should be praised in perspective. Daily Racing Form’s Mike Watchmaker has the right idea: “You'll have to excuse me if I don't run right out and buy a Kantharos t-shirt and fitted hat just yet. Kantharos might be a very special horse, but you just can't tell off of the Saratoga Special, a four horse race (including one first time starter) run on a tricky, slow, sealed, muddy track. I want to see more, against better, on a fast track, before I start thinking about Kantharos being the next great savior.”

If he is, he may just be taking his picture alongside a few babes and he won’t have to pay a lick for that kind of attention.

Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project “Six Weeks in Saratoga” at The Blog Itself. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Nineteen Ninety-Four

Is interleague play good for baseball?

I think that the consensus is that, yes, it is good and it allows people to see matchups that they would not ordinary witness should their teams not square off in the World Series.

I’m one to lean against interleague play since it waters down the National League versus American League rivalry. Beats the strike-shortened 1994 season, I suppose. Just a thought. I mean, even Bayside and Valley got old in Saved by the Bell ... or did it?

Zenyatta ... well, she did it again. She swung wider than a slow-pitch softball bat. She won by a neck and let everyone look at that enormous backside that Sir Mix-A-Lot would be proud to call his own.

Hey Ladies!
Wanna roll in my Mercedes?
Turn around. Stick it out! Even white boys got to shout, Zenyatta got back!

Her thundering win in the Clement L. Hirsch did a few things. One, it means that when Zenyatta’s connections shoot for the Breeders’ Cup Classic they plan to aim for 20 wins in a row—assuming she wins her next start, the, er, Zenyatta Stakes (oh, Lady’s Secret, you’re so 1986.)

Meanwhile on the East Coast Rachel Alexandra readies for the 1 ¼ mile Personal Ensign—a true test as to whether this filly will go to the Breeders’ Cup Classic or the Ladies’ Classic. She turned a 1:12.96 ¾ drill at the Oklahoma Training Track Monday morning. That deserves a Joey Lawrence “Whoa!”

Let’s pause. Think about it. I can hear it now. Say, hypothetically, that Rachel doesn’t put in a monstrous effort in the Personal Ensign, which, let’s face it, she won’t, because the other girls have hit puberty and the competition is tighter. But what if she loses and Mr. Borel comes back and says, “She just got tired at the end.”

Next, the Sportsman JJ comes out and says, “Rachel told us that ten furlongs was too long ... and she is still in the middle of writing her amazing legacy alongside the likes of Curlin.”

He will say that nine furlongs—a distance we all know she relishes—is her race and will thus run in the Ladies Classic and dodge Zenyatta, who opened up Breeders’ Cup Classic Futures wagering as the favorite, this according to A.J. Ryder’s story for bettingchoice.co.uk.

Zenyatta’s win the Clement L. Hirsch also insured that a bout with Rachel Alexandra would happen no sooner than November—a time that I petitioned should have been now. But I got to thinking, and it all comes back to how you feel about interleague play: don’t you want to see the best square off against each other one time for all the marbles and on the biggest stage in their respective sport?

I used to crave for racing to come up with a modern-day rivalry the likes of which haven’t been seen since Easy Goer and Sunday Silence, as well as Affirmed and Alydar. I want to see Rachel and Zen race like anybody else, but would it mean as much in April (Apple Blossom) and August (Personal Ensign) as it would in November? Of course not. So maybe all of our attention when we knew the two would be running in 2010 was misguided. Hey, this is OUR Brett Favre story.

Some proposed that R and Z should run multiple times, others said they wouldn’t race at all. If we get one, let’s be thankful. Maybe Blame will get up to be the sweetest overlay this side of Invasor.

I get the sense that with every waning race a rivalry gets watered down, the Kool Aid gets thin, my Sam Adams morphed into a Michelob Ultra, the ice in my margarita melted.

So what can happen in 50 yards? That’s how much longer Rachel has to run than she has ever run before. Remember, she won by a diminishing head in the 2009 Preakness at 1 3/16 miles. In that 50 yards, perhaps Mine That Bird catches her. But what will happen in 50 yards at Saratoga? A track that will likely be skimmed such that she can burn it up like she did in 2009’s Woodward.

It will be interesting to note. A less-than-stellar effort will undoubtedly point her away from THE Classic and away from the one horse in the one race people want to watch.

It’ll be worse than interleague play. It will be1994 all over again.

Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project “Six Weeks in Saratoga” at The Blog Itself. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

Comments (6)

BallHype: hype it up!

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